Arch Coal Harnessing Technology for Continuous Improvement in Reclamation

Thunder Basin Coal Company, a wholly-subsidiary of Arch Coal, operates two surface mines in the Powder River Basin. Black Thunder mine is the larger of the two operations and one of the largest single coal mining complexes. Black Thunder measures its success by its ability to meet the nation’s energy needs in a safe and environmentally responsible manner. The mine has operated more than seven years without a SMCRA violation, air quality or water quality exceedance.

Thunder Basin has a long-standing history of going above and beyond regulatory requirements to ensure that reclamation provides a permanent and self-renewing vegetation cover that supports the post-mining land use of grazing while also providing sufficient habitat to support the region’s wildlife. These lands are successfully being reclaimed back to the former native habitats including grasslands, short-grass prairie, shrub-steppe and riparian areas.

To support land stewardship efforts and enhance the reclamation management strategy, Black Thunder mine took a serious look at how to manage and track the status of reclamation bond release indicators to ensure that reclaimed areas are continuing to move toward final bond release. With this in mind, a geographic information system (GIS) and a comprehensive reclamation database are being integrated into the reclamation management strategy.

ArcGIS® provides an intuitive approach to mine-wide reclamation management as it allows for visual assessment of the collected data to determine reclamation success. The system tracks key bond release metrics including, total ground cover and absolute total credible vegetation cover percentage, herbaceous production, species diversity and shrub density. Data is color coded to determine reclamation status based on the parameters and while providing a quick and easy visual reference that allows Arch staff of all levels to asses mine reclamation. This system allows Arch reclamation engineers to compare data over a multi-year timeframe, define and track trends and address any potential problem areas.

Over the last decade, Black Thunder mine has worked to continually enhance its reclamation management program by making it more adaptive as information is received. The creation of the GIS database allows the environmental and reclamation team to continually improve their program, identify areas of reclamation that are succeeding and explore areas that may need additional management. This system is readily adaptable to other operations that wish to employ modern technologies and integrate and adaptive reclamation management strategy.

Coal mine reclamation in Wyoming is continually recognized as some of the best in the nation and Black Thunder is proud to be at the leading edge.

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